Coaches in the NFL will preach against the evil of bounties

Talks will focus on bounties

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — NFL coaches plan to go right at the league’s most sensitive subject – bounties – when they get together with players in April.

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Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith addressed bounties to reporters at the NFL Owners Meetings on Wednesday, saying football "is a physical game and there are rules we must play by. As coaches, it is important we make sure we coach to that."  LUIS M. ALVAREZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
LUIS M. ALVAREZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith addressed bounties to reporters at the NFL Owners Meetings on Wednesday, saying football "is a physical game and there are rules we must play by. As coaches, it is important we make sure we coach to that."

Although a few shied away from commenting at owners meetings this week about the New Orleans Saints’ extra payments, under which players were rewarded for big hits on specific opponents, most coaches said it’s an important subject to address – with the media and with their players.

“The whole league will talk about it,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday.

“The commissioner wants the entire league to make sure it’s discussed – to go forward using it as an example, to stress there is no place for that in our league.”

Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for all of the 2012 season after the league investigated that team’s bounties.

Goodell also ordered every principal owner and head coach in the league to certify in writing that their team does not have any sort of pay-for-performance system.

Several coaches echoed Coughlin, hoping they only will need to bring it up once with their players. Clubs will gather for workouts in mid-April.

“It’s definitely necessary to mention it,” said Ron Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers play the Saints twice a year in the NFC South.

“The precedent has been set by the commissioner and they need to understand that and it is not to be broached again. Going forward, we won’t have to go over these things again.”

Payton’s former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, is barred indefinitely for overseeing the system. Williams was hired as defensive coordinator in St. Louis earlier this year.

Joe Vitt, Payton’s assistant head coach, was suspended for six games, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis got eight games, and the team was fined $500,000.

New Orleans also loses a second-round pick in each of the next two drafts.

Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz stressed how easy it is to cross the line from acceptable rewards to something sinister.

Schwartz said past awards he’s given out while working for the Tennessee Titans and the Lions – baseball bats or a boxing glove for big hits – had league approval, because they didn’t have any monetary significance.

“It was part of the game-ball program. It wasn’t part of anything else,” Schwartz said.

“A recognition system has been in effect for football since pee wee ball. We give out game balls. We give out trophies at the end of the season for all different things. A lot of colleges give out stickers on helmets; high schools give out stickers on helmets. There’s a big difference between things like that and things like bounties.”

Schwartz noted that it’s not unheard of for QBs to buy gifts for their linemen, or for running backs to do the same if they have a big season.

“That would all receive very good press,” he said. “I think what this shows is how fine some of the lines are and how easy it is to go from something like that that’s been around and has been part of football to something that should never be part of football and is not good for our game.”

The NFL sent lead counsel Jeff Pash and security director Jeffrey Miller to New Orleans to speak with the Saints about the bounties one day before they played host to Detroit in a wild-card game in January. The league officials told owner Tom Benson to make sure no bounty system still was in place.

Mike Smith’s Falcons are the Saints’ main rival in their division. Atlanta-New Orleans games usually are close, always are feisty.

“It is a physical game and there are rules we must play by,” Smith said. “As coaches, it is important we make sure we coach to that.”

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